towerofgeburahSome say Archives of Anthropos books are clones of the Narnia books. This is completely wrong. Author John White puts his own unique touch on the Narnia franchise: he makes it gayer and more boring.

To explain, CS Lewis’s landmark series led to a boom industry of Christian books that involved children being whisked away to magical worlds. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L Engle is a good example. It is a good book that compares well with Lewis’s work. The Tower of Geburah is the runt of the litter. On its own, it can perhaps mount a justification for its existence. But it led to a series of six Narnia ripoffs, which is really a bit much.

The story…? Mostly Narnia. I think he changed some names around. There’s a character called Mary who is exactly like Edmund. Actually I think she was from the second book. It’s been a while. The magical realm is called Anthropos, and it’s ruled by a king called Kardia. For Greek students, this means you are going on a magical journey to the nation “Man,” ruled by the goodly king “Heart.” Every time John White needs a name he just jacks it from some foreign language.

Many adults enjoy A Wrinkle in Time, but the only people who enjoy The Tower of Geburah are people who read it as kids. I’m not one to take away from anyone’s formative memories…but damn it, you were a child. You spent your days jamming crayons and glue into your mouth. We don’t let children drive, we don’t let children drink, and we don’t let children vote. Why do you think your child opinions on literature are worth a shit?

My advice is to re-read The Tower of Geburah with the greatest of caution. You first experienced it through the warped perspective of childhood. You might think adulthood would give you a greater appreciation of this animal, but in this case you’re just more likely to notice the faux fur.

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theceltsEnya’s first album is different from the others, as her signature sound had not yet been hammered out. But it’s better than the others…maybe because her signature sound had not yet been hammered out.

Where later Enya releases just kind of bulldoze you under a massive wall of pad synths and layered vocal tracks (they’re still good), The Celts sounds sparse and intriguing. It has more active instrumentation than any of her other releases. The melodies are more discernable. The textures are stronger and richer, and it seems to draw on a wider set of influences. You hear some things Enya seems afraid to touch these days: such as lead synths and electric guitar.

“The Celts” and “Aldebaran” are both very nice, and then “I Want Tomorrow” arrives…yeah, this song is just insane. Most Enya songs tend to ride a single big idea around like a pony, whether it’s a chorus hook or a melody or whatever. “I Want Tomorrow” does have some climactic parts but it mostly comes across as a free-flowing experience that isn’t written around any particular moment in the track. It’s hard to explain, but the song sounds like a couple of different songs joined together, all of them articulating different moods, but all of them making sense with each other.

About two thirds of the The Celts has no lyrics. I’d call these songs instrumental, except Enya’s “instrument” of choice has always been her layered backing vocals, of which there are a plenitude.

A few highlights emerge from these wordless songs. “Epona” is compact and efficient, and reminds of Vangelis classics such as “Movement V.” The three sections of “Triad” take the listener through a series of differing moods and atmospheres. “The Sun in the Stream” is the second amazing classic from the album. It’s brilliantly realised from start to finish…just a perfect song.

This is the Enya CD I always come back to. Watermark and Shepherd Moon aren’t too far behind musically, but on The Celts Enya found something very rare and special…and then lost it again. I don’t expect her to ever produce a work of this quality again.

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thewaspfactoryThe Wasp Factory is a like a very small dog with a very loud bark. Although I’d heard lots of hype about how it’s evil and shocking and transgressive, it proved to be a small novel about nothing. Sixteen year old Frank lives with his father on an island. He conducts odd shamanistic rituals. He mounts animal heads on poles. He bumps off a few kids in scenes of PG-13 rated gore. Storytelling is crude and uninvolving, characters abuse each other and abuse the reader, and the twist at the end is not as interesting as it thinks it is.

There’s a good deal of violence, mostly against animals. Frank’s brother likes hurting dogs, and Frank himself enjoys setting rabbits on fire. The book contains enough cruelty against rabbits to make El-ahrairah cry. I think Iain Banks was going for “dark antihero” here but Frank just comes across as juvie justice system fodder, totally dislikeable and unsympathetic. A short story about this character would have been interesting. A novel’s length with Frank felt like going on a long car ride with a person who needs a bath.

The title refers to a strange device Frank has constructed from a clockface. He releases wasps from a glass jar into a series of tubes, each leading to one of twelve deaths (four o’clock leads to a spider, 12 o’clock leads to fire, etc). A cool idea, but ultimately the book isn’t about the Wasp Factory. What it is about is an open question. Lots of themes and ideas are introduced but none of them seem terribly material to the overall story.

I liked Frank’s brother, who makes Frank look like a model citizen. The brother is returning from an insane asylum, and he threatens to disrupt Frank’s well-ordered system of rituals. He also stars in the book’s most chilling and disturbing scene (the one in the hospital), but eventually even he fades out of the story, as Iain Banks clears the stage to make his big point about…something beyond me.

Banks once said that The Wasp Factory is a meditation on childhood innocence. In other words, you’re not supposed to do anything except read it and connect Frank’s experiences with your own childhood atavisms. But Frank is an impossible character to identify with, he performs one improbable action after another like a puppet jerked around by an over-enthusiastic puppeteer. Nevermind relate to him, I couldn’t even view Frank as a person that might exist.

At its best moments, The Wasp Factory has a misanthropic “who gives a fuck” attitude that I enjoyed. Mostly it seems directionless, as if it isn’t sure what the point is but just ploughs on regardless. It exists in its own Wasp Factory, with all twelve exits being “wastes the reader’s time.”

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